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244                                                                                                             B. POLEVOI
"Anna Danilovna is not at home, but she telephoned
about you. Come in and I'll show you to her room," said
the old woman, scanning his face, his tunic, and espe-
cially his kit-bag, with her dull, faded eyes. "Perhaps
you need some hot water? There's Anichka's kerosene-
stove in the kitchen, I'll boil some----"
Alexei entered the familiar room without the least em-
barrassment. Evidently, the soldier's ability to feel at
home anywhere that Major Struchkov possessed to such
a marked degree was communicating itself to him. The
familiar odours of old wood, dust and moth-balls, of all
these things that had served faithfully and well all these
decades, even filled him with emotion, as if he had re-
turned to his own home after many years of wandering.
The old woman followed at his heels, keeping up a
constant chatter about a queue at a baker's shop where, if
you were lucky, you could get white rolls on your ration
card instead of rye bread; about an important army officer
she had heard in the street-car the other day saying that
the Germans were getting it hot at Stalingrad and that
Hitler had gone so mad over this that he had to be put
in a mad-house and it was his double who was ruling
Germany now; about her neighbour Alevtina Arkadyev-
na, who really had no right to receive a worker's ration
card, and who had borrowed a fine enamelled milk can and
had not returned it; about Anna Danilovna's parents, who
were very nice people now away with the evacuees; and
about Anna Danilovna herself—a very nice girl, quiet
and well-behaved, not like others who go gallivanting
with God knows whom, and she didn't bring men home.
In the end she asked:
"Are you her young tankman, Hero of the Soviet
Union?"
"No, I'm an airman," answered Meresyev, and he
could barely restrain a smile when he saw the surprise,
vexation, distrust and anger that was simultaneously ex-
pressed on the old woman's mobile face.
She pursed her lips, banged the door angrily, and from
the corridor said, no longer in the cordial tone in which
she had spoken before:
"Well, if you need any hot water, you can boil some
yourself on the blue kerosene-stove."